It’s been three years already?

August 2, 2010

And this blog turns 3!

Actually it turned 3 years old a few weeks ago, but that whole getting married thing prevented a timely update, so this one is a little late. 3 years is a rather crazy length of time when I think about it. It’s more time than I’ve played any one MMO, it’s longer than all but one of my RL relationships, and it will shortly be longer than any one job I’ve ever held. I think that says more about me actually than anything else, but regardless, 3 years is a long time in SynCaine land. Anyway, on to the numbers, in similar fashion to last years update.

Blog Stats as of 8/2/2010

Total views: 692,972

Busiest day: 11,852 — Thursday, September 6, 2007

Posts: 843

Comments: 11,790

Blog Stats 2009

Total views: 335,842

Busiest day: 11,852 — Thursday, September 6, 2007

Posts: 523

Comments: 5,393

Blog Stats 2008

Total views: 104,123

Busiest day: 11,852 – Thursday, September 6, 2007

Posts: 253

Comments: 1,658

What the numbers mean: While the rate of growth has slowed, things are still chugging along here, and considering the blog has been heavily niche-title (Darkfall) focused for a good year now, that’s not too shabby, although I’ve still yet to conquer that BBC-linked post for one-day traffic. Some day BBC, some day. Comments, the best part about blogging, have continued to come in at a very healthy rate. Thanks to everyone who has dropped a line here, and especially to those who comment frequently, you help keep me motivated to write and rant. The next few months should be fun, as both the 1 million views and 1000 posts milestones will be reached.

Top Posts for all days ending 2010-08-02

The love and hate game, WoW style. – 17,626

iPhone MMO, Field Runners, and a slow Friday – 10,564

EQ2, trial of the neverending download. – 9,796

Aion end-game, way ahead of WoW and WAR. – 7,701

Blizzard’s new focus for WoW, just as soon as Mythic finished it- 7,488

Level 4 missions in EVE, and my silly Rohk – 7,130

Warhammer’s major problem, the players. – 5,694

Dragon Age review – 5,378

DarkFall: 3 month review – 4,624

Screen shot comparison. – 4,260

Top Posts for all days ending 2009-06-22

The love and hate game, WoW style. -17,285

iPhone MMO, Field Runners, and a slow Friday – 9,437

Blizzard’s new focus for WoW, just as soon as Mythic finishes it – 7,259

EQ2, trial of the neverending download. – 5,982

Warhammer’s major problem, the players. – 4,767

Screen shot comparison. – 3,848

Level 4 missions in EVE, and my silly Rohk – 3,314

Burned out on WotLK already. – 2,902

Looking in the mirror; the sickness that was WoW raiding – 2,773

Help coming for low population servers in Warhammer Online – 2,526

The top two spots remain unchanged, with the BBC-linked post still holding a very comfortable edge over everything else, with no real contender in sight now that the Field Runners post has slowed its Google-fueled charge. The number three post is rather humorous, because after all these years, people are STILL searching for answers on when their damn download will actually finish. I don’t doubt EQ2 going SOE-flavor F2P might drive a little more traffic over as well.

The forth post shows just how much hype Aion had generated pre-release, along with just how many people are Blizzard trained to think end-game first, everything else last. Down to number five is one of my favorite posts, and as you can see from last year the post itself is not a favorite when it comes to random Google traffic. The post about running missions in EVE, at number 6, shows the steady interest EVE generates, and how year to year, new pilots are still trying to tackle the same challenges as pilots before them. That speaks highly to the design of EVE; that instead of having to reinvent itself every expansion, the game simply continues to add layers, and those early layers are just as important today as they were in the past.

At number 7 is another WAR-related post. Like Aion after it, WAR went live with a lot of hype and hope from the MMO community, and like Aion, it’s sad/frustrating that it did not come close to living up to expectations. Spots 8 and 9 are review posts; people seem to like those, especially if you make them just days after (or even better, before) the game in question is released. Finally last years number 6 rounds out this year’s top 10.

Referrers for all days ending 2010-08-02 21,138… – 11,015 – 8,833 – 4,704 – 3,649… – 3,159 – 2,914 – 2,701 – 2,529 – 2,388

Referrers for all days ending 2009-06-22 – 11,315… – 11,015 – 4,346… – 3,159 – 2,914 – 2,701 – 2,598 – 2,097 – 1,386 – 1,338

Virgin Worlds, just narrowly edging out the BBC last year, reigns supreme a year later, almost doubling the number two spot. The rest of the list is largely unchanged from a year ago, with some minor shuffling and the addition of Biobreak, which pushes the main page of Massively out of the top ten (of course, a lot of Massively traffic comes from individualized pages, so their overall traffic is much higher than what the above list might suggest). Out of all MMO blogs, Tobold had the biggest increase; guess a little dramalama will do that eh? I think next year I’ll break these out to show just the previous year, as this will better reflect the year that was rather than show a total accumulation, and give a more accurate view on who recently sent people over.

Search Terms for all days ending 2010-08-02

hardcore casual – 6,772

syncaine – 3,466

darkfall review – 3,275

field runners – 3,149

dragon age review – 2,439

darkfall reviews – 1,097

aion endgame – 1,038

wotlk – 1,000

darkfall account – 913

wheel of time mmo – 773

Search Terms for all days ending 2009-06-22

field runners – 3,106

hardcore casual – 2,011

syncaine – 1,117

wotlk – 998

darkfall account – 762

warhammer online server population – 749

warhammer online collectors edition – 711

field runners for pc – 670

wheel of time mmo – 583

sandbox mmo – 536

I win! Fighting off Field Runners, the name of this blog and its author return to their rightful Google places as number 1 and number 2. Fitting that Darkfall comes in at number 3, just ahead of last year’s champion. As mentioned above, people love reviews, and Dragon Age made quite a splash when it released, so no surprise with number 5, followed by people looking for even more Darkfall reviews, with others looking for information about Aion’s endgame. Cute that wotlk shows up with exactly 1000 searches, ahead of getting a Darkfall account and the long suspected and hoped-for WoT MMO.

That’s it for the numbers; now let’s talk a little about what actually happened this past year here. I mentioned in my last yearly review that Darkfall was a pleasant surprise, and perhaps the surprise for this year is that I’m still at it a year later. Blood has all but officially gone inactive, and a re-return for Inq is not in the plans atm, but I fully intend to find a new clan to play with and continue on with Darkfall to feed the MMO need. With one expansion set to drop soon, and a massive update coming at the end of the year (or so), I see Darkfall keeping me entertained MMO-wise for some time. I’m sure the release of Civilization 5 is going to cut (deeply) into everything else come September however.

It’s funny that last year I was hoping for a third faction to be added to WAR, because a year later the hope is the same, if somewhat diminished due to how poorly the game has held up overall and with all the staff reductions over at Mythic/EA/Bioware/whatever. This plus the fact that WAR never did become that fun casual PvP game for me, and little attention has been paid to that game around here, which is a major change from a year ago.

“RMT is the future” update: This one is interesting, because the ‘traditional’ F2P model has still not produced a major MMO hit in the US/EU, while at the same time it seems each week another subscription MMO is announcing some F2P-ish account options. My captain obvious prediction? Soon the ‘standard’ for MMO pricing will be a hybrid of the sub and F2P model, and more than one games future will be determined by just HOW they mix the two. As usual, I expect SOE to set the standard on how NOT to do things, someone else to set the baseline for how to do it well (Turbine?) and Blizzard to come in later and ‘polish’ that idea to set a new industry standard, for better or worse. That said, I expect F2P will be very popular (and profitable) if executed in a manner similar to how Riot is doing things with League of Legends. When the model is win/win for the players AND for the company, you know things are good.

So that’s 3 years, damn. Hopefully everyone has enjoyed it (or enjoyed hating it) as much as I have, and fear not, things will continue. Be it a new Friday Blog war, another ‘out of the blue’ MMO surprise, or a second year of ganking in Darkfall, I’ll be writing about it, and hopefully you will be here reading and commenting. Happy gaming everyone, and thanks again for dropping by!

Guild Wars fail

June 9, 2010

The quest to find an MMO to play with Aria has hit another snag. In short, here is how Aria views Guild Wars “go kill plants, kill more plants, then more plants. We do the same thing every time”. Granted I don’t view it quite like that, but I can see her point.

The NightFall campaign, while better than Prophesies, still has some pacing and direction issues, and overall the PvE of Guild Wars is not what I expected. I think going in I was expecting something a little closer to Dungeons and Dragons Online in terms of instance use and pacing structure. Not AS heavily instanced and on-off as DDO, but more along the lines of the very first NightFall mission rather than all of the explorable areas that follow. I must say the PvE that we have experienced so far feels very much like a poor-mans co-op fantasy action game, but with tab-target 1-2-3 MMO mashing combat rather than some decent action game combat. My plan is to stick with GW a bit longer (at least to the cap) and see how it plays out, as I don’t mind the repetition as much as Aria does, and I think I’m a bit more into the skill combo stuff than she is.

But this means we are back to square one in terms of finding something to play. So far we have failed with DDO, EQ2, Allods, and now GW. Games we have already played a considerable amount of time and enjoyed include LotRO, WoW, and WAR.

Aria is pushing for a return to WAR, but my main concern is that what we found entertaining in our first pass through the game (a heavy mix of PvE (PQs being the highlights)) and some PvP, more so once we got into T4) might not be available should we reroll now. I’m sure tier 1 would be great, but am I wrong in assuming that both T2 and T3 would be empty-ish, and we would have considerable difficulty finding others to complete PQs with or to find some random RvR? I am curious to see how WAR has improved since we last played (just after LotD arrived), but that curiosity is tempered by the fact that no major addition has really found its way into the game. The new city siege mechanics do sound like fun though, and while we never had heavy performance issues before, that area being improved can’t hurt either.

The other option might be Aion, although that heavily depends on HOW the grind plays out. I’m not questioning that the game is a grind, but rather what you do while grinding. If it’s combat-heavy and not a direct repeat day-in-day-out, and some progress can be made in hourly chunks, that could work. If it is just doing the same exact uninteresting thing for hours before moving on to the next area to rinse and repeat, that would obviously be bad. I’m leaning heavily towards the latter based on what I know of Aion atm.

WAR is currently ahead if for no other reason then the fact that we already own it, so the initial cost to try it again would be lower (Aion still sells for $40). Reader thoughts?

Chuck-o-the-day: Leading hand sanitizers claim they kill 99.9% of all germs. Chuck Norris can kill 100% of whatever the fuck he wants.

PvP Systems: FFA vs Faction

March 26, 2010

Coppertopper previously asked my opinion on FFA PvP versus set faction PvP, and today seems like a good day to throw out my opinions on the topic and also see what everyone else thinks. Examples of FFA PvP include Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call – Darktide, Shadowbane, EVE Online, and DarkFall, among others. Examples of set faction PvP include Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Aion, and Warhammer Online, among others.

Let’s start with the strengths of each setup. In a set faction system, you are assigned to a side and hence immediately start the game with pre-defined enemies and friends. This means you can get right into the PvP action without having to solo or find a guild. WAR is the best example of this strength, as right at level one you can queue up for a scenario and play as part of a team. Balance is also generally easier to achieve in a set faction system since the developers know exactly which races/classes are going to be facing each other. Lore is easier to design as you have clearly defined enemies and allies, and the story can progress as the devs see fit.

A FFA PvP system on the other hand gives much of the control over to the players, from determining enemies and allies to how guilds choose to define themselves (mercs, RP, specific race/class/focus). Politics become a huge factor, as your enemies one day might be your allies the next, or vice versa. In games like EVE or DF territory control is important due to its relationship to valuable resources, and this opens up economic PvP. Finally the ‘bad apples’ can be placed on Kill on Sight (KoS) lists, giving the player community some additional control/tools.

I stated to Coppertopper that I prefer the FFA PvP setup, but really it comes down to how you design your game. For instance, I don’t think DAoC would have been a better game had it been FFA PvP from the ground up, while at the same time I think a game like WAR is hurt by its strict two-sided conflict. I also really enjoy the political aspect of a FFA system, but again this comes down to how involved you are with an MMO. I would say most casual players don’t keep up with politics, and so that entire side is a non-factor for them. If anything, a simplified “who do we fight” system is better/easier for them to jump in and get to some fighting. Fighting also tends to be more frequent in a set faction system, at least when comparing games like DF/EVE to DAoC/WAR, although the style of PvP is certainly not the only factor to consider when asking why.

MMO history has also shown the set faction games generally fare better than FFA PvP games in terms of popularity. I think a large part of that has to due with the more streamlined approach a set faction system allows, and also because a FFA system is more difficult to predict. A quick look at Shadowbane’s history will show that the FFA setup largely contributed to the games failure, as the winning side would be so dominant as to literally kill a server. On the other hand EVE and its one server has yet to see complete domination, despite the efforts of many, and while DF started with a few large alliances dominating, today on the NA server the world is split into many smaller alliances, each with its own political connections and history, and many ‘little guy’ clans are able to claim property and carve our a space for themselves.

Lum the Director

March 19, 2010

More embarrassing: How your in-game Aion character sounds, or the company behind the game producing this? That video actually encouraged me to buy Aion gold… sorry keno, or khino, or kihnananaan. Whatever…

I’d love to have been in the meeting where not only someone proposed making that video, but then someone else thought about it, and came to the conclusion that yes, this would be a good use of resources and will definitely, definitely slow keno sales. This being Friday, I’m going to say that it was Lum’s idea. Good job!

(Glad you are back to blogging though, and it only took Derek Smart talking again to do it!)

What is Realm Pride?

January 8, 2010

In the land of MMO PvP setups, we know for sure that one style, freeform PvP, works. We also know that another style, pre-set PvP, has worked, but has also has a history of failure. The one major example of pre-set PvP success is Dark Age of Camelot, and many point towards ‘realm pride’ as a major reason for its success.

Before I get into the idea of realm pride, let’s first define the two styles a bit just to set some ground work. Freeform PvP is basically what Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call-DarkTide, ShadowBane, EVE, and DarkFall had/have going. It allows basically anyone to team with or against anyone regardless of any pre-set conditions (race/class/faction/etc), meaning you have countless ‘sides’ of various sizes. Population control is largely left in the hands of the players, and managing a huge empire of players is viewed as a highly prized ‘skill’ itself. This style is certainly not problem-free, but the system overall ‘works’ if everything else lines up. Shadowbane for instance did not fail because of its PvP setup, and games like EVE and DarkFall are better games thanks to the fact that sides are not pre-set.

A pre-set system is one where the sides are ‘pre-set’ by the developers, be it two sided (World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Aion) or three sides like in Dark Age of Camelot. (Nothing comes to mind above three). The idea is to start everyone on a team, avoiding the troubling of joining a clan/alliance before having friends to fight with. The very well known problem is always population balance, as one side being more popular than another creates serious and difficult-to-fix issues. This problem is of course magnified if you only have two sides, as you only have one option for an opponent and you fight the same population imbalance at all times. You can’t ‘team up’ on the popular side, or have a side battle between two smaller sides. Once the overpopulated side wins a few encounters, the under populated side begins to lose moral and down the spiral you go.

So what lead to DAoC players feeling a sense of realm pride, or more importantly today, what ingredients might you need to replicate that and pull off a successful pre-set PvP MMO?

DAoC had the success it had because first and foremost, it was a very good game. Interesting classes, good (not perfect) combat mechanics, and a solid engine to run it all, DAoC had the basics and not-so-basics of an all-around good MMO game. Remove even a bit of that and all that realm pride stuff flies out the window fast.

Beyond just being a good game though, DAoC featured a war with three pre-set sides unlike the failed PvP in MMOs such as WoW, WAR, and Aion (soon on that one anyway, and no, an easily exploited NPC side does not count). At least with three sides, you bring in some diversity to any engagement, and population imbalances can in part be ‘corrected’ by the players when two sides team up on one, directly or indirectly. Moral is also not crushed after a defeat since the next battle might be a different combination of friends/enemies. Even the ‘little guy’ has a chance to win battles if they time their entry correctly, or strike when the two other sides are already pre-occupied. Point being, everyone has options, and as long as you have options, you have a chance.

So when exactly does realm pride start to factor into all of this, and how important was it in regards to DAoC’s success? IMO realm pride was the natural progression of players who were playing a game that ‘worked’, rather than some magic formula or feature that Mythic created and then failed to replicate with WAR. The idea of realm pride naturally builds when you are invested in anything that is going well, is enjoyable, or is worth caring about. Players in successful EVE alliances have ‘realm pride’ for their alliance, just like DF players have ‘realm pride’ regarding their clan. The reason realm pride never took off in WoW or WAR is not because some ‘special sauce’ was missing from those games, but just the general fact that neither game had great PvP to begin with, and so those players never felt heavily invested.

With WAR in particular, Mythic missed the boat on replicating DAoC realm pride because they did not deliver a game that was good enough to get heavily invested in. The RvR in WAR was not good enough to log in and care how your side was doing, or how it did the day before. You can point to the fact that Relics in DAoC meant a lot more than capital city stars in WAR to those playing, or that keeps in DAoC seemed to attract more fevered offense/defense than in WAR, but realm pride (or lack of it) is not the direct answer to ‘why’ that is/was.

It’s tough to say whether a third side in WAR would have outright saved the game and allowed it to keep more of its initial player base, or to at least stop it’s bleeding once the tourists moved on, but would anyone argue that a third side would be anything BUT an improvement? The question that is sadly likely never to be answered is just how far away was WAR from being a great game? In many ways it was far superior to DAoC, yet when it came down to what mattered most, a prolonged interest in RvR, it failed. How many people would still be playing if instead of going down to two sides, Mythic had gone UP to four, or even six sides? Would the topic of why WAR players never felt a sense of realm pride even be an issue then, or would many of us instead be talking about the underhanded move the Dark Elves just pulled off when the Dwarves and High Elves were fighting over a capital city?

In short, creating ‘realm pride’ is not a magic fix or feature that can save a pre-set PvP MMO. It is a reflection that what you have created ‘works’ for those playing, that they care enough about what you are offering to go above and beyond their normal routines and to get more involved. When you’re players start to genuinely care about what happens, you know you have them hooked for months to come.

2009 predictions: BINGO! (not exactly)

December 30, 2009

Can you believe I had trouble finding my 2009 predictions post. I know, how hard is it to find a post titled “2009 Predictions” on my own blog, but um, it took a lot longer than I care to admit. I blame not tagging it with the “Site Update” tag, now fixed. Personal stupidity in the clear, we move on…

Actually not really, we just move on to a different form of stupidity, that being my 2009 predictions. They are… not exactly as on-target as I would have liked them to be. To the fail list!

WoW: All players will burn through WotLK faster than they did TBC, increasing the churn rate. WoW will launch in new areas of the world and count those players towards its own overall sub number (despite more than half of those not being full-paid subs), which counters the effects of the above and WoW retains its 11 million ’subs’. The new raid content will be beaten the day it is released live by top guilds, but it will be considered tuned ‘correctly’ despite the churn. More daily grinds in 09.

I think the burn/churn part was/is correct, as WotLK shipped with a very limited and easy endgame, and updates have been traditionally slow to come. By the looks of things everyone is waiting for Cataclysm to really shake things up, although the now-fixed LFG is allowing the antisocial crowd to see some ‘new’ instances. The biggest thing I missed is WoW being banned in China, which has actually cut 6 million or so gamers out, rather then the predicted “new territory” opening to keep numbers stable. 2009 being a ‘failed’ year in terms of AAA titles also helped maintain WoW sub numbers IMO. “More daily grinds in 09″ is a great line by me though, good job self.

WAR: Mythic steals CCP’s stackless I/O tech and Fortress sieges without lag become a reality. The Choppa and Slayer classes are added, and the game overall is ‘fixed’, with balance becoming the never-ending debate. Keeps gain the functionality they have in DAoC, along with some new features. WAR continues as the #2 sub MMO in the US/EU.

Oops. So not only is WAR not the current #2 MMO, it’s actually one step away from the grave, and EA is very NCSoft-like in killing underperforming titles (AC2, Sims Online). The big thing of course is that WAR is, by all accounts, still not ‘fixed’. That requires a third+ faction, and with it’s budget/staff cut, I wonder if that will ever happen. More than anything I’m disappointed in myself for not spotting this design error sooner, or perhaps believing that Mythic would be able to pull off a set two-sided conflict. I still hope Mythic can turn WAR around, as I’d love to play it as a casual PvP game to jump into and enjoy for a few hours a week. The game overall is not nearly as bad as some make it out to be, but when your entire endgame is marred by such a huge blunder, it’s impossible to ignore.

LoTRO: Replaces EQ2 as the ‘other’ fantasy PvE game in town, and continues to improve monthly. The overall effects of MoM are seen as a huge long-term positive for the game, and take its focus in that direction, with more legendary items and complex classes. The bread and butter book quests continue to be the best PvE in MMOs.

A bit off here as well. While LotRO is currently bigger (in terms of subs) than EQ2, it’s not enjoyed as successful a year as it did in 2008. The pace and quality of updates has slowed, MoM had/has some issues (and I’m not sure it’s long-term additions are positive), and currently LotRO has nothing that screams “come back!” to me, which back then I was almost positive would happen.

SOE and EQ2: Not much will change for EQ2, as 2009 will being ‘more of the same’, which will be embraced by the core players. Thanks to Station Access it will remain a nice option, yet it will concede more players as the engine continues to get more dated. FreeRealms will launch, and no one above the age of ten will notice. It certainly won’t be the MMO jesus SOE is praying it will be, but rather will become another free-to-play cartoon. The Agency will flop, as MMO players will reject the FPS-lite gameplay.

I think I got the EQ2 part right (anyone playing care to confirm?), and certainly FR is not the barn burner some predicted (when is the last time they released one of those enlightening ‘120 billion characters created’ PR pieces?). The Agency is still MIA, and news (at least in the sources I check) has been non-existent about it. Is anyone still looking forward to this game?

AoC: Closed before we see 2010.

Yup, wrong again. The most surprising part about AoC is not that it’s still alive, but that it’s still alive despite not being fixed (again, at least according to the sites I visit). I think the general down year that was 2009 actually saved AoC, as those playing it really did not have anything major to pull them away.

EVE: Continues to grow, with avatars in stations bringing in many new players. Most leave once they fly out to low-sec and get podded. EVE continues to be the one MMO that defies all of the ‘WoW or bust’ logic, and gives hope to anyone looking for a different and yet successful MMO.

If you want easy prediction points, predict EVE will continue to grow. Still waiting on those avatars though. If we attribute the business models behind Fallen Earth and DarkFall to EVE, the last part of that prediction also works.

Free-to-play MMOs: They continue to be pumped out at dime-a-dozen rates, each a bit more anime than the last. Without a AAA representative, they remain in the same spot as they have been in 2008, an MMO afterthought or ‘niche’. The few gems in the crowd have difficulty finding an audience due to the overall perception of free-to-play games.

While the perception may be slowly shifting, F2P is still without a AAA representative, and instead has become the ‘fall back’ plan for failed sub games, most notably DDO. I think I got the ‘gems in the crowd’ part right, as we still see piles of F2P games released and sifting through them is a difficult and time-consuming process. Oddly enough the successful niche titles of 2009 (Fallen Earth and DarkFall) have gone with the subscription model, although W101 is a hit F2P game.

RMT: Again as in 2008, RMT is kept to buying ponies or cute dresses, though all games in the MMO graveyard (Station Access) gain some form of RMT. At least one major MMO will make a legitimate push into full-on RMT, giving us the NGE of 2009.

The pet store in WoW was not even close to NGE, but it did ruffle some feathers, and overall more games added RMT-like ‘features’. This is still an area the genre is trying to figure out, as we have seen titles offer too much (FR) and get burned, while others (DDO) seem to be offering ‘just enough’ to satisfy. Certainly one of the trickier balancing acts in the business today.

So overall I was a lot more wrong than right, and things did not play out like I expected them to. It’s been somewhat of a strange year in the MMO genre. On the one hand, unless you are currently enjoying FE or DF, you can easily view 2009 as a down year for the genre in terms of new games. Older titles got some nice updates and continued to do what they do, yet nothing earth-shattering really happened in those games either.

The difficult part for me is separating my opinion of the year with what overall happened. For me personally 2009 was a great year, but that’s solely based on DarkFall delivering far beyond my expectations and being a consistent source of entertainment for basically the whole year. That I don’t see this greatly changing in 2010 is also something to really look forward to. I’m also very happy to see Fallen Earth doing well and bringing some new ideas and formulas to the MMO table; it’s always good to see someone rewarded for NOT cloning EQ1. If either title inspires more creativity to actually be released, then 2009 was a good year.

I should have my fail-tastic 2010 predictions up tomorrow.

300k subscriptions to fail, 50k to profit.

December 22, 2009

Much like Tobold’s knowledge of MMO blogging history (Lum invented it, if you did not know…), his understanding of business success also seems to be a little off. Actually I’m going to go out and say the above-linked post is just a troll attempt to drum up traffic and get him more Blizzard freebies, because I believe Tobold is a lot smarter than that post would indicate, but sometimes its fun to play along and feed the trolls. Plus it seems Tobold is not the only one confused on this subject, so in the spirit of giving, here goes.

If one MMO has 300k subs, and the other has 50k, which one is more successful? If you answered anything but “that depends”, you are Tobold.

Because if that 300k MMO cost 50 million to produce, and the 50k one cost 5 million, guess who is going to get in the black sooner? If that 300k MMO need 500k subs to just break even based on all associated costs, while the 50k one needs 40k, guess who is profitable? If that 300k MMO spent 10 million on advertising to boost initial sales, and the 50k MMO spent nothing, who again needs to sell a lot more copies just to break even? If that 300k MMO is losing 5000 players a month, and the 50k MMO is growing at a rate of 10% month-to-month, guess which one is going to have a server shut-down party and an employee meeting in the parking lot? And finally, if you are an MMO dev, which title would you rather be associated with; the expensive failure or the small success story?

Numbers aside, it would be wise of Tobold (and anyone else in that camp) to research EVE’s history of growth, and compare it to the rest of the MMO genre during that time. I’d also look at the number of MMOs growing after 5+ years, because the list is rather short. Actually, the list of MMOs that continued to grow after just one year is rather short itself, although come February it will have another name added to the list, one that both Tobold and Lum wish would go away.

Failure post is fail

December 21, 2009

This post by Lum is a little funny. Funny given the source, and funny given the ideas within. It’s also funny because in parts it’s more or less a time capsule of, oh, 5-10 years ago? I won’t bore you with all the details between Lum and DF, but let’s lay out some facts before we move on, shall we?

  • Number of MMOs Lum has launched in the last 5 years: zero.
  • Number of MMOs Tasos has launched in the last 5 years: one.
  • Current game Lum is working on (chasing bots): Aion
  • Current game Tasos is working on (not chasing bots): DarkFall.
  • Current MMO growing in the US/EU since launch: DarkFall.
  • Current MMO bleeding out in the US/EU since launch: Aion.

Amusing that Lum lumps SB, Fury, and DF together as one example in the post. Cute, but not exactly correct.

Fury was indeed a shitshow failure, but its PvP base was the least of its troubles. I would start with “The game failed to actually be playable” as my first item to address. I would then address “when playable, Fury was not remotely fun, for anyone, ever”. After that and perhaps another hundred or so issues, I’d start to think about PvP-related problems. I’d also stop calling a terribad medieval Counter-Strike clone an MMO, but that really does not matter at this point, does it?

ShadowBane had the problem of launching in a state that well, also made the game unplayable. SB.exe is a joke, but it’s really not. It’s more like dark humor, because sadly it’s true. That SB in any form was able to survive and last as long as it did is actually a tribute to its open-ended PvP base, considering once it failed at launch its financing was cut and development basically stopped. How many other forms of MMO content could survive YEARS without any meaningful updates?

And finally of course we have DarkFall, which Lum puts in the group above despite the fact that, you know, DF is growing, making money, and rapidly improving. Lum cites EVE in another example, so maybe he got his groupings mixed up?

Lum also mentions message boards and how they should be avoided at all costs by the developers. While 99% of ANY message board is at best garbage, in that 1% you CAN find some value. Consider this: if you were a teenager when Ultima Online launched, you are now in your late twenties or early thirties, hopefully educated and employed, and overall not a 13yr old basement dwelling degenerate yelling at your mom for another hotpocket. If you are the above-described gamer, you’re likely an Aion player anyway, since kids that age enjoy being an emo fairy.

Given that some of today’s MMO players have more MMO experience than some of the devs making the games, it’s not exactly out of the question that they might have an idea or two worth considering. Add in that we are talking about a genre that is still in its infancy, one that (unless you are making an EQ-clone) is still tossing out radically new ideas that may be sliced bread+1 or the next NGE, and you can’t exactly be an SME in MMO design. I mean Richard Garriott might count, but that expertise gave us Tabula Rasa, and then RG flew off to outer space.

And as Lum accurately puts it, given that a PvP-based MMO is more likely to attract the dedicated MMO player, that’s not the worst user-group to get feedback from. I’d safely say the Hello Kitty Online devs can avoid their suggestion forum however.

Looking over DF’s brief history, it would only take a little searching to see that many of the games positive changes (GC on spells, whirlwind) originated on the forums. Again, you don’t take everything written as gospel and write code based only on that, but to assume you can’t get any value out of such a dedicated and in-touch group is ridiculous. Add in the knowledge that had DF failed, those looking for a PvP MMO would either have to return to EVE or, god help us, play an emo fairy, and it’s not hard to see why those who truly are trying to help the game along are willing to put aside personal gain to improve things overall (players with high-end magic asking for magic nerfs, those who favor mounted combat explaining why it needs to be adjusted, etc).

Luckily for DF fans Aventurine does not share Lum’s stance on all of this, and so far DF is a better game for it. Good luck chasing those bots though, give em hell!

(DarkFall-related post disclaimer/reminder. If you click the image link near the top-right of this page and buy a DarkFall account, I get paid 20% of the client cost. If you believe this taints my views and reporting on DarkFall, your opinion is wrong.)

Passing MMO judgment

December 1, 2009

I few days ago a wrote a post about why I believe Warhammer Online failed to live up to it’s potential/hype, and Tobold took the following line and ran (out of context) with it:

Because unless you are a believer in the Eurogamer method of MMO evaluation, for most players a month or less is not enough time to fully evaluate a game, especially an MMO, and especially in it’s first month of release.

What he read from that line is that you must play a game X hours before you can determine if you like a game or not, which is of course silly. Obligatory Eurogamer shot aside, the point of the above is that real MMO fans should know more or less what to expect in the first month of any MMO, and given that baseline, certain reasons for leaving a game in month one just don’t apply IMO.

For starters, anyone who has experienced an MMO from the start knows that a games worst day from a tech/coding perspective is always day one. There is a very good reason the first month of any MMO is when you will see the most hotfixes and last-minute patches. It’s also the reason many MMO gamers today apply a mandatory 3-6 month waiting period to avoid just these issues. For everyone else, you make the conscious trade of polish and functionality for the rush that is a new MMO, regardless of who makes the MMO (Yes, Blizzards next MMO will also have issues in it’s first month, just like WoW did, the least of which will be massive server queues/outages in the first week/month, and you will see Blizzard apply hotfixes and patches at a pace not seen since 2004). The amount and scale of the issues will vary from title to title, but the fact remains the first month of any MMO is always a give and take between excitement and frustration. Anyone who leaves an MMO in the first month because of a server queue should not be considered an MMO gamer, and hence falls into the 60% “you don’t count” crowd. Thanks for your $50, enjoy your Xbox. (Not that this is an absolute, obviously if a title is released and has CTD or BSOD issues every 5 minutes for a month, then yea, you can stop trying to play it. But if the mailbox is a little laggy? Welcome to the MMO genre.)

And before someone brings up “You are competing with WoW today, not 2004 WoW”, please don’t. If a game is going directly at WoW, like RoM, then that might apply, and a game like RoM has to do something (F2P in this case) to separate itself. But does anyone really compare Fallen Earth to 2009 WoW in terms of UI polish, engine performance, or total amount of content? If you do, you’re Xbox misses you, or you should have just stayed with WoW in the first place (but I’m sure the FE devs don’t mind your $50, and the players appreciate you funding future content for them). For everyone else, you go into it knowing that while some aspects won’t be comparable to any MMO that has been out and patched for years, you know that the selling points of FE outweigh a fancy (and in WoW’s case, player made) UI or a list of 100 instances. WoW can’t compete with FE in terms of its setting and survival-style atmosphere, and if that matches up with you, fancy UI be damned.

Moving past tech/code issues, you have the fact that for any game doing something actually new, the first month is when those new systems/ideas are really put to the test. Something that works perfectly with 100 or 1000 people in a certain environment (beta) might not work as planned with 100,000 players, or might show flaws when player mentality changes and things start to ‘count’. The more your MMO is actually about being massive and multiplayer, the harder it becomes to predict player behavior on a large scale.

WAR is the perfect example of this in terms of its RvR lakes and PQs. In beta players populated them ‘just because’, and played for fun (silly notion that is), but once things started to count, they went empty and it was time to chain-queue scenarios. If you quit WAR because you found scenario chain-queueing boring (while subjecting yourself to it…), welcome to the 60%. (This should not be confused with Mythic’s inability to correctly remedy the Scenario/RvR/PQ problem quickly/ever. If you quit because 6 months later RvR still had issues, that’s a little different.)

The final point I want to make related to all this is about judging games in general. Readers here know I don’t find Aion appealing in any way, and actually wish death on the game for various reasons. I’ve also never played release NA Aion, so how dare I judge it, right?

Aion’s top selling point is that it looks pretty, and I can get that from a quick tour and screenshots/videos, plus I don’t find anime-lite a particularly enjoyable art style. I also know, based on its heritage and some quick research, that Aion is a massive PvE grind followed by a massive ‘PvP’ (PvE still, but shhh) grind. Then there is the fact that it’s end-game is doomed by design (fixed two-sided PvP with an exploitable PvE faction used to progress in PvP), so even if you remove all the other issues, that won’t change short of a real third side being added (the long-lost hope for saving WAR ironically).

The point is, after you’ve seen an MMO or ten, you don’t need to play one to get a good (but not perfect, as surprises happen) idea of what a certain title is trying to offer overall. Sure I can’t speak about the specifics of dungeon X in Aion as it compares to instance Y in WotLK, but let me know when my overall assumptions are completely wrong about either game and we can talk. Fairy wings don’t fix a broken endgame and an unappealing gaming style, just like a Deathknight and ten more levels of solo PvE don’t fix WoW getting easier and cheesier since 2004.

Amusing among all of this is that I almost skipped DarkFall because I know the general trend for overly-ambitious MMOs (especially PvP ones) is that they don’t work at launch/ever (sb.exe, Fury, current MO). It was only after Tobold reported that it was technically solid that I became interested, and obviously I’ve been impressed and very happy ever since. The day I read that Aion is no longer a soulless PvE grind and that it’s true multi-faceted end-game PvP is actually fun and again not a grind, perhaps I’ll take the free trial for a spin (assuming NCSoft has not AA/TR’d the game). And hell, if I read that Cataclysm has brought WoW back to 2004 in terms of challenge/design/focus, I might just have to dust off my orc warrior.

But don’t be surprised when come Cataclysm, I won’t be overly impressed with Blizzard recycling one raid instance and latching on another ‘grind to cap for one item’ tradeskill, even though I won’t be personally grinding out that tradeskill myself (odds are good I’ve already completed the one recycled raid in its intended form though).

Mark Jacobs should have listened to his own blog.

November 27, 2009

File this one under “Dark Humor”, but Mark Jacob’s (former Warhammer Online lead designer) now-dead blog was called “Online Games Are a Niche Market”, a title that at the time was used as a joke because Mark believed MMOs had ‘made it’ and were mainstream because of WoW. What Mark has now learned, and at some point people like Tobold will realize, is that the MMO genre IS a niche genre, and taking one pop sensation and trying to pretend that’s the actual market size is well… a good way to merge servers after a few months and a quick way to get fired.

Which is not to say that as a niche the genre can’t be hugely profitable, just ask CCP or Turbine. What’s not profitable is looking at one outlier and thinking your great idea is enough to draw that population in, a population that NO MATTER WHAT is not interested. They do a good job of pretending to be interested, sure, but the sooner you realize they are not, the better (for your game and your job security).

Sadly games like WAR, Aion, and soon enough SW:TOR don’t seem to understand this, and the aftermath can/will be brutal. The one big question I have is; does Blizzard understand this? Is their next MMO aiming to replicate the EVE model of slow but steady growth over 5+ years through superior MMO design, or will they go even further than WoW has and remove even more of what makes an MMO an MMO to appeal to the far larger but fickle non-MMO gamer segment? Are they prepping Blizzard’s take on sandbox MMO design, or a highly polished Mafia Wars?


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